Essential oils are highly concentrated distilled extracts from certain plants. They are popularly used today for health, cleaning, massage, and other purposes. One reason they may be used is to help relieve discomfort from bug bites.
People who want a more natural approach to pain relief may turn to essential oils. Research shows that some could be a great alternative treatment. Essentials oils are used in aromatherapy where the oil is diffused into the air or added to a carrier oil and applied to the skin.
There are many essential oils that can help treat bug bites. These include:
1. Basil (Ocimum spp.)
Basil is a gentle anti-inflammatory oil that may help with irritation. Antimicrobial properties in the plant prevent infection. This makes it great for all sorts of bug bites, especially bee stings.
A 2013 study documented remarkable anti-inflammatory qualities in basil. Though the study only tested mice, the essential oil was found to help relieve arthritic inflammation symptoms. Anti-inflammatory properties are found in many varieties, including sweet basil, Thai basil, and holy basil.
2. Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora)
This plant is a relative of cinnamon. It’s been used since ancient times to treat pain, irritation, and inflammation. It can also help reduce pain caused by bug bites. It does this by creating a reaction on the skin like a tingling warmth.
3. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita/chamomilla, Chamaemelum nobile)
Chamomile is added to many skin products and lotions for its soothing emollient effects. With bug bites, the oil helps with redness, itching, and irritation. This flower remedy may speed up healing and recovery.
A 2011 study compared chamomile to a 1 percent hydrocortisone cream for skin irritation. It helped lesions heal much faster, while reducing pain, inflammation, and itching.
4. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavender is a popular essential oil and a favorite for treating bug bites. This oil (unlike most other essential oils) can be applied directly to bites. It has soothing properties much like chamomile, and it can also be pain-relieving.
It can be especially helpful for spider bites, fire ant bites, and bee stings. Lavender was found to have notable anti-inflammatory effects on a cellular level, according to a 2012 study. Try it for relieving bug bites of all kinds.
5. Mint (Mentha spp.)
Mint essential oils (such as peppermint and spearmint) can be a great option if they are diluted first. They give cooling pain relief when they contact the skin. Mint can also help keep insects away, preventing future bites.
Mints are also great for treating itching and the most painful of bites, such as those from fire ants. A 2013 review analyzed peppermint’s anti-inflammatory benefits alongside yet another species of mint: chocolate mint.
6. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary oil is another choice for bug bite pain relief, and it can also help prevent infection. Be sure to dilute rosemary oil with a carrier oil before use.
A 2011 study performed on rats found that rosemary had potent anti-inflammatory qualities. They were so potent, in fact, that the essential oil alleviated inflammation in the colon due to colitis. However, studies on humans are needed to explore this more.
7. Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
Tea tree essential oil is famous for its anti-pain, anti-swelling, and anti-itching qualities. It is also antimicrobial, preventing bacterial infections. This makes it a great ally against bug bite discomfort.
Tea tree’s ability to stop itching may be its best trait. A 2012 trial showed that tea tree essential oil prevented itching in the eyes better than certain medications.
How you use an oil on a bug bite depends on what you prefer. Dilute first and put directly on the bite, or if covering with a bandage can go onto the bandage.
Common solutions include water (for a bug spray) or an oil or lotion (for an ointment). Here are some common, easy methods for applying oils to bites.
Avoid direct application of essential oils. Mix them in a carrier oil — usually 5 drops per ounce of oil — and then apply to the skin.
The vast majority of essential oils should be diluted before application. Direct application could cause burning and stinging on skin. In effect, this could make bug bite symptoms even worse.
To make a dilute spray, fill a spray bottle with water. Mix 2 to 3 drops of essential oil in 2 to 3 drops of liquid carrier oil per ounce of water. Shake before use. Spray onto bug bites to experience relief.
You can create your own ointment with added essential oils. There are a couple ways to do this. One way is to make your own crude ointment. Add a few drops of essential oil to a carrier oil like coconut oil, jojoba oil, or even a beeswax salve. Add about 2 to 3 drops per ounce, and mix in well. You can also do this with your favorite store-bought lotion, moisturizer, salve, or balm to the same effect.
If you have several bites all over your body, try an essential oil bath. Add about 15 drops of your preferred oil (or a combination of oils) to the same amount of a carrier oil. Shake, then add to your bath. You can follow this up with some direct topical application to your most painful bites.
Essential oils can give some people great relief from bug bite discomfort. For others, relief may be limited.
If essential oils are not working for your bug bites, you may need to talk to your pharmacist or doctor about other options. While these provide a great natural remedy to replace chemical or pharmaceutical approaches, they cannot be considered a cure. They also don’t work for everybody.
Some essential oils can and do cause certain sensitivities in people. Make sure to do a very small skin test before applying any essential oil generously.
Keep in mind that different essential oils may each cause different reactions, good or bad. If one makes you react, there may be another oil that works better for you.
If you start experiencing an intense allergic reaction, discontinue use of that oil immediately. Contact your doctor if you begin to experience worrying symptoms. This including skin hives, difficulty breathing, and more. If you have asthma, essential oils can trigger an asthma attack.
Also, make sure that you are not just applying essential oil to a potentially very dangerous venomous bite. Learn to recognize the markings of bites from venomous spiders like the brown recluse or black widow. These may initially appear as itchy, troublesome bites, but they can be very painful or even lethal.
If you suspect that you may have been bitten by a venomous spider, seek medical care immediately. Do not apply essential oils until your doctor has confirmed the bite isn’t from a venomous spider.